In a previous post on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how this hierarchy can smoothen attraction, it was established that for attraction to exist, of foremost importance it is necessary that physical needs are met. Once physical needs are sufficiently met, it is necessary to make sure the person you want to be intimate with, feels safe around you, both physically and emotionally.
A: PHYSICAL SAFETY
It goes without saying that physical violence does not belong in a healthy relationship. If you ever find yourself to be either the victim or the aggressor, you need to make sure this never happens again. If it is a habitual thing, the best option is to end the relationship. If it occurred only once or is relatively new, there might be a way to turn things around if you understand the trigger mechanisms of aggression in animals, as humans are animals. I will write a post on trigger mechanisms of aggression and domestic abuse another time. What is important here is that a need for physical safety applies to both genders.
I don’t think I need to explain why it is wrong for a man to hit a woman. However, I do think it is necessary to emphasize and explain that nobody should hit anybody. Women often find themselves empowered to do anything they want, including the use of physical aggression as well as make decisions she knows will greatly hurt her guy. This is because society endorses the sexist view a man shouldn’t do anything to hurt a woman, while not making any requirements for women. It is sexist, not because men should hit women or hurt them, but because women should also not hit or hurt men.
True, a man is generally physically stronger and somewhat taller. However, anyone who has a bit of knowledge of martial arts or even just anatomy, knows it is perfectly possible for a physically weaker individual to hurt and even permanently damage a stronger and taller person. While a slap in the face is unlikely to cause permanent damage, it takes away the feeling of safety a man has around you, because:
- You broke his trust: violence does not belong in a relationship. If you attacked him while he has his physical defenses down, because he firmly believes neither of you will ever physically hurt the other, then you showed him you are not to be trusted. If on top of that you claim you are a feminist or pro-equal rights girl, you lose all your credibility due to your hypocrisy. (Unless of course you indicate you are okay with him also using physical violence against you: in that case you are not a hypocrite.)
- Today it may be a slap, tomorrow a punch on the nose, and one day he might be in the hospital because you blinded or castrated him, or stabbed him to death. Who knows? It is not a nice prospect you are giving him.
- Instinctively we all know that violence to ourselves that is not responded to, tends to create an interpersonal dynamic that encourages the originally violent person to resort to more violence later on, regardless of the gender of the agressor. (Unless we become 100% submissive and compliant to the agressor.) So basically, if you slap your partner, you leave him with any of the following choices: (1) to fight back now or later, (2) to not fight back and become your slave rather than equal as well as risk repetition and/or escalation of your violence to him in the future, or (3) to end the relationship. None of these three choices you are giving him, allow for him to feel you care anything about your relationship with him at all. And so this is how a simple slap can come to undermine the second most basic need on Maslow’s hierarchy, as well as all higher needs.
How to restore feelings of safety – i.e., HOW TO SAY SORRY AND MEAN IT
The good news is, an isolated incident of violence or causing emotional pain doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship, as long as you can provide a guarantee it will not happen again. For a person on the receiving end to feel safe with you again, it is crucial that that person knows:
- you are sorry, and you blame only yourself for going this far.
- you do not blame the other, even if (s)he responded in a similar way. After all, you were the one who initiated the physical violence and breached the trust given to you.
- you do not give yourself excuses. A woman will tend to provide herself the excuse that she needed to know her man would not hit her, and so she hit him first. Or perhaps she felt offended, or gives herself another ‘valid’ reason. Likewise, a man who has initiated violence might give himself the excuse that if he doesn’t hit her first, she will not know her place and will walk all over him or disrespect him, or that she hurt him emotionally. Any of these types of excuses that men and women use to justify violence stem from uncertainty in the self, and are not to be blamed on your partner. Worst however, is that such excuses indicate an increased likelihood you will repeat your aggressive behavior. No way someone is going to feel safe if you clearly seem to feel that your physical violence at that point, however minor, was justified according to your current views.
- your position on violence in relationships shows (a) that you believe in equal rights, and (b) that you prefer relationships without any sort of violence. (This feels safe because it says that you think it is justified the other is allowed to defend him or herself when attacked, while at the same time conveying you do not like to feel hurt. Logically, it follows you will not hurt them again, because that would mean you expect to get hurt back, which you do not like.)
- you prove that you have changed yourself into a nonviolent person. You can only prove this if you get a chance to frequently interact with this person (perhaps initially through extended Skype conversations, just to make sure). How can this work? Your frequency of disagreements will not change, but your way of responding will have changed. If you manage to have disagreements where the way you react feels very different from those disagreements that escalated into you slapping the other person (or doing something worse), the other person can feel safe around you again. Basically, by interacting a lot, and having disagreements without violence, you get to prove you truly are sorry for what happened, to the extent you have changed yourself from the inside out.
B: EMOTIONAL SAFETY
Apart from feeling physically safe, we want to be sure our emotional integrity is free from harm. This is why physical violence is so harmful: while bruises can heal, trust is harder to restore, because the attacker has not only created physical pain, but also emotional pain.
Other than through physical violence, humans often hurt each other emotionally in other ways, often not fully aware of the degree of pain they are causing, if aware at all.
A lot of the pain we cause each other this way is due to individual and gender differences in what we experience as important to our well being and our self esteem. In general, what hurts anyone emotionally, regardless of gender or individual preferences, hinges very closely on the other needs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Also, due to individual and gender differences, what hurts one person a lot, would not hurt the other person as much if it would happen to her.
For example, for one person, a sexual rejection may feel like a slight annoyance, while for another it reverberates on all levels of his hierarchy of needs, feeling not only that physical needs are not met (first level), but also feeling unsafe (second level) in being able to trust the person who desired the relationship in the first place to be fair to him, unaccepted (third level), and not valued as an individual (fourth level). And if he has had no chance to explore his sexuality before, as being impeded in self-actualisation (fifth level).
For one person, being denied time and attention after two times sex may feel slightly uncomfortable, while for another it reverberates on all levels of her hierarchy of needs, feeling not only that physical needs are not met (first level), but also unsafe in being able to trust the person who seduced them with an expensive dinner and nice talk (second level), unaccepted (third level), and not valued as an individual (fourth level). And if she is desiring a more serious relationship: impeded in her chances of self-actualisation (fifth level).
Modern society endorses the idea that what others feel is not our responsibility, and can only be solved by themselves. While it is true that acceptance of what happens and happened to us is only something we can do ourselves, it is still very helpful knowing that someone who has hurt us did not do it intentionally, and that that person still cares enough for us to help us feel better before disappearing from our life. People who have been either physically intimate or emotionally intimate, have forged a connection where it is only humane to assume some responsibility for the other, in contrast to what our society tries to tell us. It is not without a reason that rates of depression, suicide and emotional disorders, as well as the idea that problems are something to only share with a therapist, are more prevalent in exactly those individualistic societies that promote the idea that you are not responsible for the shit you cause in the lives of others. Yes, anyone who is hurt will have to find the power inside somewhere, but if you have been intimate with them, you can and should try to help shine a light on where to find that power so they can get there quicker, because caring for other people is humane. Especially if you are one of those people who put the other further into the dark. Being there for eachother, however short, is the number one way to create the feeling of safety. A feeling which is needed for people to be able to function normally and not start shouting when walking on the street, or other crazy stuff.
Threatening to break connection or actually breaking it without room for the other to reply or get closure; not responding to a simple question when you are a person who checks your phone regularly; being the one who always decides on changing your plans for the worse when the plans involve the other; not having the time to reply for over a week when you are unemployed and have as only fixed past time watching tv; holding your ground without giving room for negotiation; always being the one to make the final decision; withholding things that are very important for the other; unfair treatment; saying hurtful things; making fun of the other; blackmailing; sharing private details with others, etc can all create a feeling of emotional unsafety. If you find yourself doing several of these, you cannot expect that the other will not do a single one of these in return. Therefore, best is to do none of this. If you did anything or many things that made the other feel emotionally unsafe, and you still care for your relationship, scroll up and reread the part on how to say sorry, because it also applies if you have hurt someone emotionally.
For all you MEN out there, we have a blogpost with specific tips on how to make a woman feel safe with you.
For you women out there, I have no additional post. However, I would urge you to please read this post carefully. The part about saying sorry is not just for how your man should say sorry to you for hurting your feelings: you should also be able to read it from the perspective that you did something wrong, and consider for a second whether you have ever hurt his feelings. (Trouble in relationships is rarely one-way traffic, so especially if you think HE did everything wrong, try to find out whether you have hurt him, perhaps unknowingly, possibly in some way that you have a hard time imagining anyone can feel very hurt.) What may feel justified to you and something which would not hurt your feelings too much if it happened to you, can be very painful to him. Admitting to your mistake without being pushed for admitting to it, is the number one indicator you sincerely regret hurting someone physically or emotionally, even if at the moment you did it, you felt justified. Remember: in feeling sorry, it is better late than never.
If you think you can manage the primary physical needs, and the secondary safety needs mentioned here, then continue reading on the tertiary need: belonging. In that blogpost, we will explain how to make anyone you are intimate with feel like they belong.